Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney and House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey met Friday afternoon with lawmakers and business leaders to hear some sobering statistics from the Department of Labor.
This recession’s impact on Connecticut’s unemployment was the largest in post-World War II history, Andy Condon of the Labor Department told the group. Unemployment has hit the state’s urban areas and old industrial towns harder than the rest of the state, he said.
But some of the state’s employment sectors have weathered the recession relatively well. Only education and health services have seen continued growth, Condon said. That sector has added 6,400 jobs since the December 2008, he said. It currently employs 310,300 people.
That doesn’t include public school teachers and staff, who fall under the government job sector, he said. In fact, most of the growth has been in the health care sector.
“The cause for this job growth is demographic. We’re an aging society we have higher demand for more health services and in the most difficult times of this recession this is the only sector that’s shown growth,” he said.
Condon said the sector has seen growth in a good mix of both high paying skilled positions and low paying positions.
The leisure and hospitality sector has lost jobs but has done comparatively well, Condon said. It added 2,700 jobs over the last year and employs 137,700. That sector does not include jobs at the state’s tribal casinos, which also fall under government, he said.
But other sectors didn’t fare so well. Construction, for instance, was hit particularly hard. Condon said that the sector is always sensitive to recessions but it does not seem to be bouncing back from the most recent one yet.
“What’s particularly different in this business cycle is what often brings construction out of a recession is demand for housing we’re not seeing any demand for housing given the mortgage financial crisis that happened,” he said. “The best forecast that I’ve seen is that market will stay stagnant for some time. So construction faces a challenge beyond this recession.”
Manufacturing has also continued to decline as it has been long before the recession hit. Condon said there are many reasons for losses in that sector but jobs have been lost to states with lower employment costs.
“The day of low-skill, high-paying manufacturing jobs is over in Northeast and in the United States in general,” he said.
While Connecticut has been hurt by declines in defense spending, the state maintains an advantage in a highly skilled manufacturing workforce and has the potential for growth in highly technical and flexible industries, he said.
The information sector has also been in decline, due in part to the decline of newspapers, who have figured out a way to deliver content online but have not figured a way to make money doing it, Condon said. Those lost jobs have been slow to be supplanted by internet publishing, he said.
The government sector has also shed jobs after an employment spike from temporary census jobs, he said. While the state government has added 700 jobs since December of 2009, local governments have shed 5,300 jobs since 2008, he said.
Though the state has shown slow and steady job growth, there are still many people who’ve been unemployed for six months or longer, he said. The Labor Department has seen long term unemployment at double the rates of previous recessions, Condon said.
“That is a… a stark statistic,” he said.
Over half of the long term unemployed are above 45 years-old and that segment of the population is having a much harder time finding employment than they have after previous recessions, he said.
“This group may become the most difficult to reemploy. These are people who have a lifetime of professional working experience and now are increasingly considered by companies to be less employable because they do not have the current set of skills,” he said.
Women have fared better than men during this recession, with males comprising about 58 percent of the long term unemployed population, he said. The employment sectors that have done better, health care and education, traditionally have a higher representation of women, he said.
Some minority groups have also been hit disproportionately hard. The Hispanic and Black population both comprise about 9 percent of Connecticut’s total population and each represent 14 percent of the long term unemployed population, he said.
But following the Labor Department presentation, the job growth roundtable wasted little time getting to the work of discussing ideas to foster more jobs
Last year’s Majority Leader’s roundtable led to the passage of a jobs bill, an effort Sharkey called a tremendous success. The hope now is to build on the groundwork laid from the previous year.
The group, comprised of legislators and business and academic leaders, seemed to agree that promoting Connecticut exports was a good way to bring wealth into the state.
“I think everyone around this table is very interested in growing the economic pie because that’s the only way you support the service industry and the community in full,” said John Rathgeber, president and CEO of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association. “So I think we have an opportunity to change the direction of the state and to ensure that we have those niches for jobs that are related to exporting goods and services and creating more.”
He wasn’t the only one to mention changing the state’s direction. Connecticut Technology Council President Matthew Nemerson said that Connecticut should follow the lead of states like Arizona, Texas and Florida, who have been watching what industries global investments have been flowing to and adapting to take advantage of those investments.
“What Connecticut has really been good at is reinventing itself dramatically every 20, 30, 40 or 50 years,” he said.
And it seems there are people willing to invest in the state. Next Generation Ventures, LLC Chairman David Pepin requested information about existing companies looking to expand that would be good candidates for investment. His organization has $100 million it is looking to invest, he said.
“We need identify them and get that $100 million to work sooner rather than later. So any help we could get in identifying companies that need that money would be welcome,” he said.
The roundtable adjourned but agreed to meet again frequently in the coming weeks, as they are looking to quickly implement some of the ideas generated from the discussions. Commerce Committee Chair Sen. Gary LeBeau said he’s already introduced a place-holder bill to adopt ideas from this year’s discussions and some that didn’t make it into last year’s job growth bill.